Cough medication abuse big with teens

Knoxville (WVLT) -- Methamphetamine abuse remains a huge problem with teens in East Tennessee.

But did you know that the number of young people abusing over-the-counter cold medicines is much greater?

Dr. Heather Edgley works in the emergency room at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, where she has treated teenagers who've taken excessive amounts of cough medicine to get high.

"It can cause seizures, brain damage and even death," she said.

About 3.1 million people between the ages of 12-25 have used cough and cold medicine to get high, 75 percent of those fall between 9 and 17 years old.

Dr. Edgley believes there is a reason cough medicine abuse is so popular among teens?

"They can walk into any pharmacy in Tennessee with no question asked about their age,” she said.

The cough suppressant Dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, is found in more than 140 cough and cold medications available without a prescription.

DXM causes disorientation, blurred vision, and hallucinations.

"You can get addicted and use it everyday,” said Dr. John Watson at the UT Medical Center, “needing it to feel good."

Some warning signs your child is abusing these drugs are slurred speech, abnormal behavior, excessive sleep, and loss of motor skills.

Abusing cold and cough medicines could also open your child up to more addictive drugs which are also dangerous to their health.

"It’s going to lead to prescription drugs and narcotics," said Dr. Edgley.

Abuse now can lead to other health issues later.

"Cough syrups have other things, that can cause heart problems," said Dr. Watson.

So how can you keep your child from getting their hands on over the counter prescriptions.

"Be aware of what's happening at home and be aware of what your teen is doing,” said Dr. Edgley.

She also said other states have begun to limit the amount of cough medications they sell to underage kids, a law a number of people would like to see passed in Tennessee


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